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Sunday February 25th, 2024

Sri Lanka PM rejects allegations of cabinet-sanctioned election directive

President Ranil Wickremesinghe and Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena at United National Party 76th anniversary celebration

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena denied that the cabinet of ministers had decided not to accept cash deposits from nominees for the local government elections scheduled for March.

Responding to a question by opposition legislator Anura Kumara Dissanayake in parliament on Tuesday January 17, the prime minister said the cabinet had not taken a decision pertaining to election deposits.

“At every cabinet meeting, we discuss issues in the country. If somebody said that, it is an incorrect news,” said Gunawardena.

MP Dissanayake and opposition leader Sajith Premadasa had sought an explanation from the government about a controversial circular attributed to Public Administration Ministry Secretary Neil Hapuhinna ordering all District Secretaries who function as Returning Officers not to accept deposits.

The circular was withdrawn by the ministry secretary hours later, after it drew the condemnation of opposition political parties who claimed it was an illegal order and an underhand tactic to delay the polls. Opposition parties claimed that the circular had been issued following a decision reached at last week’s cabinet meeting. According to MP Dissanayake, the secretary to the cabinet of ministers had conveyed the decision to Hapuhinna, directing him to issue the directive to the district secretaries.

The National Election Commission, an independent body with the sole authority to conduct elections and issue directives to returning officers, summoned the ministry secretary for an explanation of his actions, prompting the latter to issue an apology.

Responding to the allegations, Prime Minister Gunawardena said the cabinet had taken no such decision and had not decided to delay the local government election.

Demanding an explanation for the official’s action, Opposition Leader Premadasa asked the government in parliament on Tuesday what action it planned to take against the official if he was acting of his own volition as claimed.

“Mr Hapuhinna sent this letter as a decision taken by the cabinet. It wasn’t a personal decision of his. We want a straight answer to this: Did the cabinet take such a decision?” asked Premadasa.

“I have already answered this question. They’re asking the same question again. The opposition leader does not listen,” responded Gunawardena.

MP Dissanayake said: “The secretary to the cabinet of ministers is who conveys cabinet decisions to relevant ministry secretaries. It’s his certificate that officially becomes a cabinet decision.”

“If the cabinet secretary is sending out decisions that were never made by the cabinet, what is happening in this country? This is a serious matter. What if sends some other letter tomorrow?”

The MP, who leads the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP)-led National People’s Alliance, charged that President Ranil Wickremesinghe and United National Party (UNP) MP Vajira Abeywardena had ordered the cabinet secretary to issue the directive.

“The government is not within the cabinet; it is with [President] Wickremesinghe and Vajira Abeywardena,” said Dissanayake.

Premadasa asked if there is a super-cabinet that functions above the ordinary cabinet.

“This was a decision that was put together in secret. Hapuhinna was compelled to send it to the returning officers because it was deemed a cabinet decision. This is a frightening situation,” said Premadasa.

A heated exchange also erupted between opposition leader and prime minister, with the former calling a latter a “peon” or office assistant.

Prime Minister Gunawardena retorted that it was in fact Premadasa’s father, former President Ranasinghe Premadasa who during his tenure as prime minister under President J R Jayawardena, had famously referred to himself as a peon.

Responding to further questions, Gunawardene said that government officials have the right to recall erroneously issued directives as was the case with the public administration ministry secretary.

“The cabinet paper that Mr Dissanayake is talking about was not there. In the event of an error, the ministry secretary can issue a correction. That’s why Secretary Hapuhinna issued an immediate correction that same evening,” he said.

“If the opposition leader proposes that the public administration ministry secretary is removed, it cannot be done based on incorrect information,” he added.

With President Wickremesinghe who was in parliament on Tuesday right next to hm, Gunawardena also responded to the allegation that the real cabinet was the president and his party.

“You said the man on top or the second in command is doing everything. The country shouldn’t be run by you who is at a lower level. The country rejected you,” he said. (Colombo/Jan17/2023)

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Sri Lanka could get US$500mn from ADB in 2024

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka could receive 500 million US dollars in support from the Asian Development Bank in 2024 based on the progress of policy reforms, Country Director of the Manila-based lender, Takafumi Kadono said.

The ADB expect to go to its Board around March or April with a 100 million US dollar power sector loan subject to the cabinet of ministers of approving a revised electricity reform bill.

A 100 million dollar loan to support SMEs could also be approved in the early part of the year. Sri Lanka is setting up a credit guarantee agency to support credit for small firms.

A 200 million dollar credit for financial sector was also slated for the year. The ADB gave the first tranche of the financial sector policy loan late last year.

A $100mn for the water sector could also be approved later in the year.

Sri Lanka could get around 200 to 300 million US dollars a year at the lowest rate, or concessional ordinary capital resources (COL) rate of 2 percent.

The balance of would come at the ordinary capital resource rate linked to SOFR.

The ADB has also started work on a ‘Country Partnership Strategy’ for Sri Lanka covering the 2024-2028 period, Kadodo said. (Colombo/Feb25/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s multi-aligned foreign policy based on friendship: Min

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s multi-aligned foreign policy is based on friendship to all and enmity to none, its Minister of Foreign Affairs has said.

“Non-alignment means not becoming a bystander. Non-alignment means you are not forced or coerced into a camp to take sovereign decisions… you make your own choices. Whether it is commercial, security, regional or otherwise,” M U M Ali Sabry said on X (twitter).

“I have repeatedly stressed that sovereignty is the right to have your own opinion on what’s right and wrong, and to stand by your principles. Our multi-aligned foreign policy is based on friendship to all and enmity to none,” Sabry was quoting from his speech at the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute of International Relations and Strategic Studies (LKI) Foreign Policy Forum, on the theme ‘Reassessing Non-Alignment in a Polarised World’.

Sri Lanka is one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement.

The strategically located island has been increasingly walking a fine line between opposing global factions as it seeks to come out of a financial crisis. (Colombo/Feb24/2024)

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Sri Lanka’s Commercial Bank Dec net down on tax provisions

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Commercial Bank of Ceylon reported profits of 6.9 billion rupees from the December 2023 quarter down 21 percent, despite an improvement in net interest income and lower provisions, amid a change in tax provisions.

Pre-tax profits were 8.89 billion rupees up from 2.4 billion rupees. There was a 6.4 billion tax reversal last year compared to a 1.7 billion rupee tax charge this year.

Commercial Bank reported earnings of 5.26 rupees for the quarter. For the year to December 2023 earnings were 16.07 rupees per share on total profits of 21.1 billion rupees, down 11.3 percent.

Net fee and commission income was down 1.2 percent to 6.1 billion rupees.

Net interest income went up 16.8 percent to 25.5 billion rupees, with interest income rising marginally by 1.3 percent to 73.0 billion rupees and interest expense falling 5.45 percent to 47.5 billion rupees.

Loans and advances to customers grew 4.06 percent to 1.17 billion rupees in the year to December. Debt and other financial instruments fell 10.5 percent to 649 billion rupees.

Financial assets measured and fair value through other comprehensive income was at 287 billion rupees, up from 117 billion rupees.

Impairment charges were 13.1 billion rupees, down from 19.6 billion rupees last year.

Gross assets were up 6.45 percent to 2.36 billion rupees. Net assets were up 5.51 percent to 214 billion rupees. (Colombo/Feb24/2024)

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